Missouri’s tick season officially got under way late last month with the year’s first confirmed case of a potentially life-threatening tick-borne disease. The first illness involved a woman in her 80s who lives south of St. Louis. The woman was hospitalized, but was later discharged and is now recovering. The woman contracted the disease known as ehrlichiosis, which can cause renal failure if left untreated.

Missouri’s tick season officially got under way late last month with the year’s first confirmed case of a potentially life-threatening tick-borne disease. The first illness involved a woman in her 80s who lives south of St. Louis. The woman was hospitalized, but was later discharged and is now recovering. The woman contracted the disease known as ehrlichiosis, which can cause renal failure if left untreated.

 Ehrlichiosis is transmitted by the Lone Star tick and symptoms begin with a sudden onset of fever and headache. Patients often report fatigue and muscle aches as well as other flu-like symptoms. Without prompt treatment, ehrlichiosis can be fatal. The illness can be treated with antibiotics in both adults and children.

 The number of tick-borne illnesses in Missouri grew to 668 last year, up nearly 100 from 2007. That gave Missouri a rate of 11 tick-borne illnesses for every 100,000 Missourians. The most commonly reported tick-borne diseases in Missouri are Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, and tularemia.

 Ticks are probably closer than most people think. They can be found in the yard of an average home, as well as in bushes and tall grass around the property. This makes it important for anyone spending time outdoors to remember to check their clothes and skin frequently for ticks.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, and tularemia can lead to serious complications if they are not recognized early. All three, however, are effectively treated with antibiotics. The key symptoms to watch for after a tick bite are:

n a sudden fever and

n severe headache

n chills, body aches, nausea, or vomiting.

The rashes that can occur with Missouri tick-borne diseases usually do not appear until a person has been ill for four or five days. People may want to consider contacting their health care provider if those symptoms follow a tick bite or possible exposure to ticks.

 Prevention is the key to avoiding ticks and the diseases they can carry.

If work or recreation takes you into areas where ticks live, use repellants and protective clothing to keep ticks from biting. When selecting a repellant, choose one that contains 20 to 50 percent DEET. In addition, keep lawns mowed, brush trimmed, and leaf litter away from the dwelling, and treat pets with an effective tick repellant. Check often for ticks on your clothes or body. And if you find a tick on your body, remove it as quickly as possible, without squeezing the tick’s body.

Promptly remove attached ticks.  Using a pair of fine-tipped tweezers, grasp the tick by the head or mouthparts where they enter the skin. DO NOT grasp the tick by the body. Without jerking, pull firmly and steadily directly outward. DO NOT twist the tick out or apply dishwashing soap, a hot match, alcohol or any other irritant to the tick in an attempt to get it to back out. Place the tick in a small container of alcohol to kill it and later discard it in the trash. Clean the bite wound with soap and water and apply a commercial topical antiseptic. If a portion of the mouthparts of the tick remains embedded in the skin, it is not necessary to “dig” it out - cleansing and disinfecting of the tick bite site is all that is recommended.